This morning I was listening to my favorite Icehouse album and it reminded me that I’ve needed to look more closely at the career of bass player Guy Pratt in a way that I have been meaning to do for years. I first got wind of Pratt when the former graphic designer got the nod to join Icehouse in time for their “Primitive Man” tour at the ripe old age of 19. While Pratt did not play on that album, he got exposure that has served his career exceptionally well as Icehouse on that tour were tapped to open for a certain Mr. Bowie’s tour of 1983. You might say that all eyes were on the young Pratt. Names to follow.
Nine Straight Albums Of Pratt Mojo
The first recorded evidence of Mr. Pratt was a stunner. The tour band from 1983 rolled off the stages and into the studio and the imperial Icehouse lineup recorded the “Sidewalk” album. Pratt’s bass playing on this was white hot as Pratt offered both fretted and the en vogue fretless sounds of the early 80s in his capable hands. If his profile raised with the Bowie tour, his playing here clinched him as a man to hire if you wanted some excellent bass.
He next surfaced in the orbit of Robert Palmer, who obviously took in a few Serious Moonlight shows and liked what he heard. This led to Palmer inviting Pratt to his home for some productive writing sessions that first surfaced on the eponymous “Power Station” album in 1984. The jazzy “Go To Zero” was from the pen of Pratt and much to John Taylor’s embarrassment, producer Bernard Edwards called Pratt in to show him exactly how to play the bass line. The one time I saw Pratt play live was ironically when touring for the second Power Station album in 1997 that saw him replace absent John Taylor who sat that album out.
He next became involved with the debut album of Stephen Duffy, “The Ups + Downs.” Pratt played bass of the funky slap variety on many of the more upbeat dance tracks, which in the rear view mirror of history constituted an aberration in Duffy’s career. The quieter, more introspective numbers that paved the way forward for Duffy didn’t look to have too much Pratt involvement in them pencilled in, but he remained in Duffy’s orbit for a little while longer.
1985 also found Pratt playing bass and singing on Palmer’s mega-selling “Riptide” album. His long-term history with Palmer lasted for many years and albums. Also in 1985, in addition to an established player like Palmer, Pratt also got caught up in the wake of another songwriter whom I usually associate with Duffy, if only for temperament and mutual Nick Drake influence. That would be Nick Laird-Clowes of the well-named Dream Academy.
That band’s debut album would also feature Pratt rubbing shoulders with the likes of session monster Pino Palladino. Significantly, it was here that was the point of entry for Mr. Pratt into the orbit of rock gods Pink Floyd. The Dream Academy were aided and abetted by Floyd guitarist David Gilmour who discovered the band and poured a lot of his energy into getting them signed and recorded. He produced the album as well.
1986 was another very full dance card for Pratt with the second, and vastly under-appreciated Stephen Duffy solo album appearing that year. Pratt co-wrote and produced “Something Special,” the great single that had Duffy duetting with Sandii [of Sandii + The Sunsetz fame]. He would also work on Duffy’s second album that year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That second Icehouse album was beckoning and the material on this one was an incredible blend of disparate eras of Roxy Music fused into a whole. The album sounded like the “For Your Pleasure” era cross-pollinated with “Flesh + Blood” or “Avalon.” It featured smooth elegance or berserk rock with little modulation in between the two poles. Sadly, this would be the last Icehouse album to be a berth for the peripatetic Pratt; the guy was just too busy and in-demand to stay moored to even one of Australia’s biggest rock bands.
Finally, 1986 closed with Pratt’s hat trick for Stephen Duffy, the at-least-two-years-ahead-of-the-curve, proto-Ecstasy non-classic “Designer Beatnik” by Duffy with Pigbag’s Roger Freeman. Pratt was master of bass frequencies on the often whimsical album that mixed chansons and proto-ambient recordings that had little precedent at the time. As Duffy mordantly put it “I made the first Ecstasy record and thought that it needed clarinets on it.”
As a lifelong Roxy Music fan, Pratt was more then impressed that Bryan Ferry also came a-calling. The beginning of a beautiful relationship began with Pratt helping to pen “The Seven Deadly Sins” on Ferry’s “Bête Noire” opus of 1987. There was forged a relationship that has seen Pratt continuing to play and record with Ferry to this day.
After i987, Pratt’s career exploded outside of the New Wave ghetto that he began in. Stars like Madonna or Michael Jackson are certainly outside of the purview of this blog, but the most significant chapter of Pratt’s life would probably be his replacement of Roger Waters in Pink Floyd. As you’ll recall, he first met David Gilmour when working with The Dream Academy [he played on all three of their albums] and when it came time for Floyd to exist without Waters, Gilmour gave Pratt the nod when hyper-talented bassist to the stars Tony Levin was otherwise engaged.
Once inside the Floyd sphere [and it would be a sphere, wouldn’t it?] he found his natural wit endeared him to the band beyond his facility with the bass frequencies. Then, it was only a matter of time before he married Rick Wright’s daughter and was literally family to these rock gods. So, good for Pratt, even if it was New Wave’s loss. Heck, by 1987, New Wave was cold in the coffin, so cry no tears. Funnily enough, Pratt managed to blow off Floyd for the prestigious Live 8 gig in 2005 due to a conflict between a touring Roxy Music and his Floyd mates. He had toured with Pink Floyd so many times, how could he give up the dream gig of playing with Roxy Music at the same show [albeit in the German concert]? It was a long time coming for Pratt.
In 2005, Pratt began an intriguing alternate chapter of his musical life as he performed in a one man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that recounted his storied career. Two years later, he turned his show, performed all over the world by now, into the book “My Bass And Other Animals.” It’s a good read for fans especially of the early period in his career where he seemed to be on every album I bought for three years straight. It’s a great body of work that served to introduce me to his talent and I quickly learned that where he showed up [at least until 1987] it was probably at some nexus of interest for me. He had a run comparable to that of fellow NWMVP-er Adrian Belew early in his career as well.
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Guy Pratt is a star. He is so much more than an in demand bass player as you have shown Monk. There was a point where he came very close to sticking with my personal favorites Echo And The Bunnymen for more than one album and a tour. I think his Ferry and Icehouse work is what I always remember him for. He was a very integral part of the sound built by Youth and Alex Patterson on The Orb and other WAU! Mr. Modo label artist releases.